It has never ceased to amaze that so-called “conservative” politicians wind up implementing some of the least conservative policies. As conservative contradictions stack up on the federal level, the national press, albeit slowly, is beginning to question the obvious differences between the professed political philosophies that conservatives use to get elected and the actions they take once in office. Here at home, we are far from immune as our Legislature and governor display the same puzzling dichotomies, although our local press seems less capable of grappling with the obvious contradictions. While the holidays are hardly the best time for the murky and often controversial topics associated with politics these days, a quick look at some of the more blatant conservative contradictions may help us start the new year with a greater demand for accountability on the part of our leaders.
How many times have you heard conservative politicians claim that if we put conservatives in office, the wasteful government spending of the “liberals” will be replaced by a tight-fisted fiscal policy that will balance the books? But just look at the situation in which we now find ourselves on the federal level since the election of “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush. Remember the federal budget surplus? It’s gone. A short year ago, we were arguing over what to do with the surplus. The Repubs, led by then-candidate Bush said, “It’s not the government’s money—it’s your money.” Oddly enough, it was those the conservatives dubbed “liberals” who wanted to use the excess revenue to either pay down the federal debt or shore up social security against the pending crisis when the baby boomers hit retirement age. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that it is intrinsically conservative to reduce the nation’s debt. Instead, a massive, top-heavy tax cut combined with runaway spending proclivities to evaporate the nation’s surplus like a snowball in July. Now, under the leadership of these so-called conservatives, the nation faces a return to deficit spending—stacking up debt that our kids or grandkids get to pay off.
The next time you hear a conservative politician make the promise, “If elected, I will run government like a business,” you might want to ask “Which business?” The collapse of Enron, (the nation’s seventh largest business), the precipitous decline of Montana Power Company stock, and the horrific, profit-driven actions of W.R. Grace that poisoned and killed Montanans all come to mind as good reasons why government should NOT be “run like a business.” Unlike businesses, which are run to make money for their stockholders, governments are supposed to be run for only one purpose: the good of the citizenry. You remember “of, by, and for the people”? Those are words from our Constitution, not Enron’s cooked financial statements.
Another of the major tenets of modern conservative political philosophy has been local control. How often during the Clinton administration did you hear some conservative politician or talk-show host condemn “the top-down actions” of the “Washington insiders?” Comes now Attorney General Ashcroft, Secretary of the Interior Norton, and their boss, George W., all of whom have been on runaway top-down management binges since W. took office. Ashcroft strips our civil liberties from the top with his entire agenda, from warrantless search and seizure with indefinite detainment, to a return of using domestic security agencies to spy on Americans. Sounds a lot more fascist that conservative, especially since Ashcroft has long been defined as one of the most “pure” conservatives around.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Norton and her timber-industry lobbyist undersecretary announce that major decisions affecting the management of national forests will be made in Washington, not on the local level. Oh, and by the way, NO APPEALS either. So much for the promised return of local control. While this may seem puzzling to those who remember the campaign pledges W. made on his way to the White House, don’t expect these underlings to be disciplined by the boss. He is too busy tossing out his own top-down executive orders to do everything from sealing the Reagan presidential documents to dumping the ABM missile treaty. And here in Montana, well, just go ask Libby residents if they want their community cleaned up. They do. So how come the governor, who many in Libby now call “Judas Martz” because of her proclivity to champion W.R. Grace over sick and dying citizens, seems incapable of following her own campaign promises to return “local control?”
Even the definition of “conservative” is a contradiction with current political reality. If you look it up in the dictionary, “conservatism” is what conservatives are supposed to espouse. “Conservatism” is defined as:
“A political philosophy based on traditions and social stability stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” Sounds pretty good, eh? But in contradiction, the conservatives now in power are abruptly changing everything from civil rights to long-standing policies, and trashing the “traditional” protections guaranteed in the Constitution along the way. There is simply nothing conservative about the radical changes occurring in our nation since the new excuse of “terrorism” replaced the somewhat tattered umbrella of “national security.”
The examples of conservative contradictions in modern politics are legion—far beyond the space limits of this column—and these are just a few of the more well-known, glaring examples. But the next time you hear politicians pass themselves off as “conservatives,” you might want to ask a few questions. If you really want a good laugh, ask them about another word with the same root: “conservation.” For some reason, modern conservatives have the toughest time with the concept of conservation as they cheerlead to log, drill, mine, burn, and road every acre of natural resources left in America as quickly as possible. Is there anything conservative in that philosophy? Of course not. But don’t expect “conservatives” to get it—they live in a world of their own, and it’s full of contradictions.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.